2017 saw a revolution in the sleep tech industry, with the introduction of the Sleep Tech Marketplace at CES (the largest event for consumer electronics in the world, hosted in Las Vegas) that offered an incredible curation of products committed solely to improving sleep quality. From controlling bedroom lights, to smart beds, to even trackers and alarms, the Sleep Tech Marketplace had it.
Amongst a plethora of futuristic innovations, the Sleep Number’s 360 Smart Bed stands out. This bed does a lot: it automatically adjusts to your sleep position to ensure you are comfortable by inflating air chambers in the mattress to contour to your frame; it’s even smart enough to sense snoring – raising the top of the mattress by 7%, which it claims will stop the snoring; it figures out how well you have slept based on your heart rate, breath rate and motion and it even allows for cosy toes through its in-built feet-warming functionality. The bed will also connect to a thermostat to control room temperature during the night – that’s if you can afford a wireless thermostat after buying the bed which retails at over £3000 for a king size.
The Emfit QS, is a sensor that can be conveniently installed under a mattress (the Princess and the Pea comes to mind) and claims it tracks heart rate, breathing rate, movement and how long you spend in REM, light sleep and deep sleep. The results can be checked on a smartphone, tablet or computer. Like the Sleep Number bed, the Emfit QS will also send alerts telling a user when to go to bed, which could be helpful or alternatively very annoying.
For anyone who overheats at night, there is the Kryo Sleep Performance System, a water-based, app-controlled cooling mattress topper that cools down to 60F(16C), which the company claims is optimal for deep sleep. It connects to a smartphone – of course – and within ten nights of collecting data it will understand a sleeper’s habits enough to optimise its temperature.
For city dwellers, there is the Nightingale, an ambient sound generator designed to block out outside noise such as traffic, that could wake people up during the night and for those who dread those early morning starts, the Sensorwake olfactory alarm-clock will gradually awaken you from your slumber using a stimulating pleasant scent of your choice― butter croissants, espresso or seaside (“a mix of sea spray, tiare flower and monoi”), a breathing light and even a melody.
The proliferation of sleep technology and gadgets at CES is in fact representative of a wider upward trend in sleep aids worldwide. The intersection of multiple factors has led to this increased demand, including a growing elderly population, stressful modern lifestyles and recent initiatives by various health organisations to increase awareness about sleep disorders. Accordingly, to research the global sleep aids market is predicted to account for £66.5bn by 20120; given this information it’s not hard to see why tech-savvy entrepreneurs are gravitating towards the sleep technology industry, given the lucrative direction it seems to be heading in.
Fitness trackers have not always monitor sleep, but this feature is now a sought-after staple in most devices, bringing tech well and truly into the bedroom. Most wristbands monitor sleep now using accelerometers to track movement both when you’re awake and when you’re asleep. But sleep tracking isn’t as simple as step tracking, and you need more than a simple accelerometer to measure it accurately – not all movement during sleep is bad, and a certain level of it is natural – and sleep experts have pointed out that movement is only one factor that determines a good night’s sleep.
So, companies have recently incorporated information from other sensors to inform sleep data. The Alta HR is the first device released by Fitbit which with improved sleep-tracking, uses night-time heart rate data to estimate light, deep, and REM sleep time. Beddit, is a device which slips under your pillow and captures movement, heart rate, humidity, and temperature information while you sleep via an app. Then there is Sleep Shepherd Blue, an advanced wearable headband that tracks your brainwaves in real time, and uses biofeedback tones to help you fall asleep quickly and wake up naturally, and for your bedside table, ResMed S+, a box-like device that uses non-contact, respiratory, and bio-motion sensors to track your sleep habits as well as the light, temperature, and noise levels in your bedroom.
A criticism levelled at these data-centric, sleep-inducing devices has been that very little guidance is offered to consumers regarding how to best utilise the information generated by their devices. Dr Gholam Motamedi, a neurologist at Georgetown University Hospital, has suggested that such devices may have a role in giving us some idea about how the night’s sleep was, but he is uncertain that consumers can make sense of their results. Additionally, for all the slick marketing and dynamic branding boasted by many of these high-tech companies, it has been asserted by experts that the science behind consumer sleep technology can often be flimsy and unsubstantiated – the claim by Kryo Sleep Performance System that its mattress pad can improve deep sleep by as much as 20% has no reputable studies or data to back it up.
And does the tech really help you sleep better? Maybe, however, even when sleep technology is rooted in genuine science, it’s often not the only way to improve your sleep. Rebecca Spencer, professor of psychological and brain sciences at University of Massachusetts Amherst has pointed out that you can find more inexpensive and simplistic ways to enhance the quality and duration of your sleep without having to resort to high-tech solutions; products that control temperature might help you if you’re too hot or too cold when you sleep, but why not better regulate your own room temperature using appropriate bedding? The jury is therefore very much still out on the efficacy and necessity of the new wave of sleep technology but who could resist being woken to the wonderful aroma of freshly-brewed coffee?